“Now there’s nothing to stop me. Nothing in the world. Nothing in the universe.”
Mariama, a teenager from war-torn Sierra Leone, is the voice of the future. The first in her family to go to school, she has her own radio show, big dreams and boundless imagination.
Aminatta Forna tells Mariama’s story. Forna’s novel, The Memory of Love, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award 2011 and was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Warwick Prize. Forna was a finalist for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
A 10-year civil war and the 2015 Ebola epidemic leaves a country broken. Sierra Leone has struggled to rebound and is still among the world’s poorest nations, with education being a primary casualty of crises. Two-thirds of adults are illiterate and only half of young girls are in primary school. Far fewer make it through secondary school. Severe teaching shortages, classroom overcrowding and a weak institutional system characterize the state of education in Sierra Leone today.
Mariama’s story is narrated by actress, singer, fashion designer and UNICEF ambassador Selena Gomez.
Mariama is still living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with her four siblings, mother, and father. She passed her senior exams in her first sitting—a real accomplishment since some students have to take the exam two or three times before passing. KoCEPO, the organization that helps Girl Rising support Mariama, shared that Mariama chose to take her exams a second time to try to score even higher to give herself more options for university. It paid off and Mariama is now at university studying engineering.
In the future, Mariama would like to advocate for education for girls from lower income families, as she thinks education is the key to fight the marginalization of women in society. Her role models are Sia Koroma, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, whom she admires for her work promoting girls’ education and reducing maternal mortality; Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner for the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, for her success in conducting an election with no violence and for her work in establishing the Forum of African Women Educationists (FAWE); and Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, for her campaign to get girls in school.
In her free time, Mariama likes to read, do media work, and spend time with her friends. Mariama and her family remain safe following Sierra Leone’s devastating mudslides in 2017.